Back in high school, I took a one-semester class on Vietnam that had a sort of what-your-textbooks-don't-tell-you cachet. A history teacher and a social studies teacher had just put together the curriculum, which incorporated historical readings, films about the war, and visits from a Vietnam veteran and an antiwar activist.
This was in the late 1980s, and although I knew the war was fresh in some people's minds, I didn't realize how much the political debates were still raging until the class disappeared the next year. Apparently the school board thought our teachers weren't sufficiently impartial.
Now that teachers are handling students' questions about another controversial war - before it even happens - I sympathize with them for having to tread a fine line.
Last week, the Maine education commissioner sent a letter reminding school employees to be sensitive to the feelings of students whose family members have been deployed. National Guard officials had heard complaints about children coming home from school upset over comments that a war in Iraq would be unethical.
A spokesman for the Maine Education Association teachers union responded in an Associated Press story that 12 complaints signified "that 99.9 percent of our educators are handling the situation well."
Online forums have sprung up for teachers to share lesson plans related to the conflict in Iraq. But how best to present balanced views on the issues will have to work itself out one community, one classroom, at a time.
Accusations of bias will fly in both directions. But if that stops teachers from feeling free enough to discuss tough issues, the silence won't serve students any better than a classroom conversation that strays a bit beyond neutrality.